Patriots

Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context

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Putting Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in context

Stephen Gostkowski doesn’t miss field goals often and he never misses extra points. His performance this season might not be the end of the world, but there’s no denying his departure from the norm: He’s missing field goals more often and, as was the case in the AFC Championship last season, he hasn’t been automatic on PATs. 

The stats are well-known by now: He’s 9-for-12 on field goals and 16-of-17 on extra points. His three missed field goals are tied for the most he’s had in a season dating back to 2013, and the current season is only six games young. 

For those who have followed the Patriots in recent years, it’s only natural to feel the sky is falling with Gostkowski. After all, the former All-Pro has been nearly peerless in recent seasons, leading the league in field goals made in 2013 and 2014 and tying for second last season. He was arguably the best in the league, and now, six games into the 2016 season, he’s been mediocre. 

The question is whether the Patriots can live with mediocre, and the answer is “definitely.” 

Of the 10 playoff teams last season, four had kickers who missed at least five field goals, including the two Super Bowl participants. Denver’s Brandon McManus had five missed field goals last season; Carolina’s Graham Gano had six. 

The list of good teams with OK kicking performances goes on, and it undoubtedly includes past Patriots teams. Remember, Adam Vinatieri missed nine field goals during the Patriots Super Bowl-winning 2003 season. 

Then there are Gostkowski’s past seasons. He’s obviously had a tremendous career, but he’s had less glamorous seasons sprinkled in with the All-Pro performances. Everyone has lived to tell about it. 

Take 2012. Gostkowski missed six field goals, tying a career-worst set in his rookie year of 2006. He still finished tied for eighth in field goals made, one behind Justin Tucker and ahead of, among others, Vinatieri. The Patriots went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship, a game the Pats might have won against Baltimore if they didn’t rely on Gostkowski for more than half (seven) of their points (13). 

Gostkowski is currently tied for 15th with nine field goals made. He’s yet to have a particularly costly miss like he did with the PAT against the Broncos last postseason, although his lone field goal attempt in the Pats’ Week 4 loss to the Bills -- a 48-yard miss -- would have made it a 10-point game early in the second half. 

At his current rate, he’ll miss a career-high eight field goals. That is not good, and while it wouldn’t quite put him in end-of-the-line-David-Akers territory (Akers missed 13 field goals in 2012, his second to last season), it would put him in uncharted territory for a great career. 

If there's any silver lining with Gostkowski's numbers down, it's that he doesn't seem to have lost his leg. His 53-yarder in the season-opener was four yards shy of his longest kick from last season. 

Having a capable kicker is important. Having an elite one is a luxury the Patriots have had for the majority of the last 20 seasons. A miss in a key spot can doom a season, but Gostkowski still has time to correct what’s been a down year. 

Brady on Foles handshake: 'Never my intention' to be a bad sport

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Brady on Foles handshake: 'Never my intention' to be a bad sport

FOXBORO -- Before Thursday's preseason game with the Eagles, Tom Brady did something he very rarely does. 

He took the field early. He didn't yet have his pads on. His arrival wasn't accompanied by Jay-Z's "Public Service Announcement." He chatted for a few minutes with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Brady then threw a handful of passes to Eric Decker before heading back into the locker room.

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What was that about? Hard to say. Brady chose not to answer that part of a two-part question he fielded after beating Philly, 37-28. But it might've been because of rumblings he'd heard about him being a sore loser. 

In Philadelphia, part of the allure of the preseason rematch of Super Bowl LII was that it gave Brady an opportunity to shake the hand of the quarterback that beat him back in February. Brady hadn't tracked down Foles at the end of that Minnesota night. And people remembered. 

Television stations discussed it before the game. (I joined NBC Sports Philadelphia pregame and put the odds at less than 5 percent that Brady and Foles would shake. So mark it down. My first-ever incorrect prediction. It was bound to happen eventually.) Beat writers wrote about it before the game

This had become a thing. And Brady couldn't ignore the noise. 

Was he aware that there was a section of the country wondering whether or not he'd shake hands with Foles, I asked him? 

"I did hear that," Brady said. "I know that was kind of made up to me because that was never my intention. I wouldn't, you know, be a bad sport. 

"I have a lot of respect for Nick and Carson, all those quarterbacks and the way they played. They're a great team. I know how hard it is to win that last game. They did it. Congrats to them. But we're onto 2018. We've got our goal ahead of us. We're going to try to go on and put together a great year."

After Thursday's game, Brady jogged to midfield to meet a trio of Eagles. First, he shook with safety Malcolm Jenkins, who knocked his fastest receiver from the Super Bowl with a hellacious (and legal) hit. 

Then Brady found Foles, clasped his hand and hugged him. The two spoke briefly, cameras all around, before they went their separate ways. 

After that, Brady met with Michael Bennett -- his most imposing competitor in Super Bowl XLIX and the brother of Brady's former teammate Martellus Bennett -- and they chatted before Brady finally headed inside. 

Three Eagles faces. Three pleasant interactions. Three shots at putting to bed a storyline that Brady clearly didn't appreciate -- cringe-worthy as it may have been. Seems like it worked. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Patriots take down the Eagles; Red Sox bullpen problems growing

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Patriots take down the Eagles; Red Sox bullpen problems growing

1:36 - It wasn't exactly full revenge for the Super Bowl, but the Patriots will happily take their 37-20 preseason win over the Eagles. Troy Brown, Michael Holley and Tom Curran break down the game and Tom Brady's performance.

6:57 - Evan Drellich and Rich Keefe join Trenni Kusnierek to discuss what the Red Sox will do with the struggling Drew Pomeranz and how they can secure their bullpen for the playoffs.

12:03 - Evan Drellich and Rich Keefe play some fill in the blank with various MLB topics, from the Red Sox path to the World Series, to which team they’d like to see featured in a “Hard Knocks” type show.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE